Random thoughts from an unusual company

More Flawed Research And An Unquestioning Media Driving Me Mad

Gabriella Davis  4 August 2008 08:00:00
An article on the BBC news site yesterday was gushing over some piece of MS research that performed analysis on Messenger traffic to establish a 'degrees' of separation pattern between individuals. To do this they analysed 30bn IM mesages sent via Messenger worldwide in June 2006 and assuming a single message between 2 people made them 'acquainted' they calculated the number of links to connect any 2 pairs.  The results were 78% of pairs being connected within 7 links.  The original '6 Degrees of Separation' research was published by Stanley Milgram in the US in 1978 and to quote from the BBC site

"The Microsoft researchers said that, to their knowledge, their study had for the first time validated Milgram's theory on a planetary scale"


So generally a standard gushing and over-excited BBC 'technical article' and as usual just a reprint of a press release.  Here's what was missing to my frustration
  • Is no-one going to ask what right MS had to analyse the IM traffic conducted by people who were behaving perfectly legally (and yes I"m sure they have the legal right under their terms and conditions but stupidly I was thinking of the moral right)
  • I'm sure that's not all the research MS are up to using the data they have at their fingertips and equally sure it's not being done for altruistic purposes
  • I'm also sure that MS aren't the only company doing such a thing but why aren't we, and the media, questioning our right to privacy and how easily it's being relinquished
  • 78% of pairs being connected by 7 links or less being presented as exciting results - has no-one at MS or the BBC heard of the 80/20 rule?
  • commenting that the research confirms the 6 Degrees of Separation theory "on a planetary scale" is either disingenuous or stupid - planetary? really?  That's if everyone on the planet had a computer, was connected to the internet, used MS Messenger and was sending IM messages via it in June 2006.  Then again that might be a worrying insight into how MS sees the world
Original Article Here
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